Seeing local business growth in a new light

Seeing local business growth in a new light
Posted on 09/17/2018
live band plays on Lower Commons outside Lenexa Public MarketAs the Lenexa Public Market celebrates its first year of operations, merchants and business leaders reflect on its impact

(from the October 2018 issue of Lenexa's TownTalk resident magazine)

Whether you've become the owner of a feather-soft hoodie that feels oh-so-cozy in autumn's chilly breeze or savored a bite of warm pizza piled high with hearty seasonal toppings, if you've shopped at the Lenexa Public Market, you've had a hand in its ever-expanding economic ripple effect.

From its opening day — Sept. 1, 2017 — the Public Market has found success as a small business incubator — a place where burgeoning businesses can pool ideas, resources and foot traffic.

Longtime Lenexa resident Rob Arnold was one of the first entrepreneurs to take advantage of this opportunity. Arnold's We Got Your Back Apparel opened its first storefront in the Market on day one with a six-month lease. The success of his super-soft Kansas City-themed clothing business led him to extend his lease, footprint and product line.

"The last year has been great," Arnold said. "We have expanded from just apparel and are starting to add other custom and locally made products. Our custom apparel business has grown as well."

If you've visited the Market since the beginning, you've been able to watch — and support — small businesses as they adapt and grow. Businesses have also used single-day opportunities like day carts to test the waters of the local retail market.

Abitino Bianco, Next to Nature Farm, Red Kitchen Tamales and Sohaila's Kitchen started as day carts or pop-up restaurants and expanded to market stalls with regular weekly hours and expanding product lines. By starting up in a shared space like the Market, vendors can capitalize on the customer followings of their neighbors.

Figuring out the needs of this diverse blend of customers can be a challenge, said Chad Talbott, owner of Topp'd Pizza + Salads, one of the Market's first anchor tenants. But it also helps to spark innovation and collaboration. 

"People that visit the market all come for different reasons," Talbott said. "Adding to our bar options has been a big hit. We now offer cider and craft cocktails on tap in addition to our local beer and wine selections. We have added collaborations to the menu over the last year that include baked goods from Serene's and honey from Next to Nature Farm in our honey wheat crust, as well as one-off items such as the seasonal Hatch chili peppers roasted by Mad Man's."

The Market's economic impact isn't just confined to its tenants. Blake Schreck, president and economic development director of the Lenexa Chamber of Commerce, described the Market as a focal point of a larger strategy to draw businesses to Lenexa.

"For decades, suburbs have been branded or stereotyped as kind of bland, beige, boring bedroom communities," Schreck said. "We wanted to do something different, something that would set us apart."

Schreck said for Lenexa that meant taking "some of the things that are seen in urban environments as  positive — as showing a vitality, or an energy, or a thriving, progressive, hip vibe" like a public market or walkable mixed-use developments and building them in the heart of the suburbs at Lenexa City Center.
"That's helped us to develop a brand that is a little different from what other communities in the region and suburban communities from across the country are doing," he said. "And that makes my job a lot easier, because it's so much fun to talk about what's going on in our community. "We've been able to develop this brand that we're a vital community that's thriving and progressive and it's going to attract people and companies. And we're already seeing that come true."

Schreck pointed to major private development like Kiewit Power's $66 million investment in building a regional headquarters at City Center as a sure sign that this approach is paying off.

Total construction — completed, underway and pending — at City Center is about $655 million. And total development activity across the city continues to outpace last year's record numbers. While new headquarters and multifamily housing sprout up across the city, Lenexa remains committed to fostering a sense of close-knit community through public events and amenities.

Places like the Public Market and Lenexa Farmers Market, where customers can meet the people who made, grew, handcrafted or curated their products, play a pivotal role in keeping that quality alive. It's this blend of urban amenities and small-town shop-local spirit that keep businesses big and small coming to and growing in Lenexa. 

"The community has been fantastic," Talbott said. "I can see that we are just about to turn the corner into making even more unique and lasting memories in Lenexa."

"I love seeing the growth and community bond in this space, and it's still not done yet," Arnold said. " We are excited to see where it goes from here both with our business and everyone else around us."